Chairs play an important role at academic conferences: not only as timekeepers but also, for lack of a better word, as masters of ceremony. Chairs are there to set the tone, to make the speakers and the audience feel welcome and to direct the discussion, which should remain collegial, constructive and professional even when critical opinions are exchanged.
To find all the relevant information about the session you are chairing, please go to “Information for Session Chairs and Moderators” in your Conftool profile. There, you will also find the email addresses of the presenting authors.
Conference volunteers will be there to help you: assigned to each session, there will be two volunteers, who will take care of technical and organizational issues and lend support when needed.
While each of us has their own personal styles, we would like to offer some general recommendations for chairing sessions:
- Feel free to get in touch with the speakers in your session ahead of the conference: you may write to simply say hi, introduce yourself, discuss the format of the session etc. In case the papers have multiple authors, don’t hesitate to ask who will be presenting. Please tell them how long their presentations can be (20 min for long papers and 10 min for short papers) and that you will have to be strict about time.
- Decide on the format of the session ahead of the conference: based on the abstracts of the papers and possibly in consultation with the speakers, decide whether you’d like to have the Q&A after each individual presentation, or at the end of the session.
- Ideally, think of a common thread or shared topics across all the papers in your session: we know this is not always easy or, in some cases, possible. But it may help you navigate the Q&A if you have a sense of how you would start a genuine cross-paper discussion
- Arrive early: it would be great if you could come to your room at least 10 minutes before the session starts. Meet the speakers in person, remind them about the format of the session, the order of presentations etc.
- Introduce yourself first: when starting the session and to welcome both the audience and the speakers, make sure you say who you are and what your professional affiliation is. Do not assume that everybody knows you – even if you see lots of familiar faces in front of you.
- Introduce each speaker briefly: name, affiliation and the title of the paper should suffice. We should make sure that our speakers get the full amount of time that’s allotted to them
- Have a couple of reserve questions prepared for each presenter: audiences are sometimes shy. If there are no questions coming from the attendees, get the ball rolling by asking the first questions yourself
- Be strict about the time: please make sure that speakers stick to their time. Please do not forget to use a timer on your phone or your watch. In each room, we will have printouts of time cards with “5 min”, “1 min” and “Please wrap up!” Use them to help the speakers know how much time they have left.
- When should you interrupt? If you have a sense that the speaker is still not on their concluding slide after you shown them the card that they have run out of time, and you’ve given them a minute or two to conclude, feel free to get up from your seat and ask them – politely but firmly – to wrap up their talk in a couple of sentences. You may want to explain that you are doing it to allow enough time for other speakers and Q&A.
- Make sure to have a closing segment: after the last question is answered, make sure that it is clear to everyone that the session is over. You may want to thank everyone one more time, ask for a round of applause, suggest that the conversations continue during the break etc.